Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Loved You In Myra Breckinridge!

As my nose is running like a broken faucet (seriously, instead of all the tissues, I'm thinking of just sitting with a bucket), I've been catching up on my viewing. I watched Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song which, after years of build-up, really disappointed me (so much so that I don't even want to write about it because, frankly, I reeeeeally wanted to like it and didn't). Next it was on to the DVD box set The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends. I'm going to write about the bulk of the content next week for, but a brief aside about one particular guest right now.

The box set collects a dozen episodes featuring a slew of great comedians: I've already seen a revelatory sixty minute interview with Groucho Marx, and a fascinating ninety minute (!!) episode with Woody Allen. It's kind of astonishing in the first place, that a talk show might have a single guest on for an entire hour (or hour and a half), but, most excitingly, in the cases where the interview with the spotlit comedian doesn't consume the entire duration of the episode, the DVD still contains the entire episode. So, for instance, in the episode with Mel Brooks, he is just one segment of an absolutely fascinating lineup. He's not even the first guest! The first guest, my friends, is Rex Reed.

Watching this interview, I cringed for my chosen profession. Wearing a jacket you can plainly see was embarrassing even then, Reed comes on to discuss the 1970 Academy Awards, which are just about to air. First, as a prognosticator, Reed frankly sucks. He gives predictions in five categories — Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress — and gets only one right, John Wayne for Best Actor in True Grit. Midnight Cowboy won Best Picture, he predicted Anne of the Thousand Days. Gig Young won Best Supporting Actor for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, he predicted Nicholson for Easy Rider. In the case of Best Actress he makes two guesses and they're both incorrect.

But let's be fair. It's rarely easy to guess the Oscar winners with any consistency (although this year might be a Brokeback exception). What's really disappointing is Reed's attitude, one of complete superiority over the Academy, but even more so, the moviegoing audience. He's cynical, snide, pompous, and totally disinterested in the topic. He seems to be stopping just short of rolling his eyes. If he was a little heavier and he didn't have such a good head of hair, he would be THE stereotype of a bad film critic.

Admirably, Cavett doesn't let his guest get away with it, prompting the audience after a particularly sour Rex Remark, "Isn't this fun folks?!?" Later, when he's had enough of his bullshit, he flat out calls him on it. By this point, Reed has already dismissed the Awards as trivial, yet he continues to harp on the fact that all the important people don't win. So Cavett asks him how it can be a crime not to win an Oscar if the awards are so trivial. A flabbergasted Reed doesn't know what to say; he actually asks him to repeat the question before responding.

It's kind of amazing. Best of all, Cavett doesn't act like a showman. He doesn't get on his high horse and wag a finger. As exciting as it was, this is not like that moment when Jon Stewart was on Crossfire and he called Tucker Carlson a dick. It's not played for shock value. Rather, Cavett, simply and calmly, engages his interview subject in a discussion, poses an intellectual question. Smart discourse on network talk show television; what a shockingly refreshing concept.

And if you think I'm being too hard on old Rex, let me share with you the entire text of what he plans to use as his acceptance speech should he ever win an Academy Award:

""I owe it all to Binaca."

Well said, Rex. Well said. You totally deserved an Oscar for Myra Breckinridge, too. The way you played the pre-op Myra while looking and sounding nothing like the post-op Raquel Welch was such a bold choice.

The episode also contains great stuff from Brooks (my favorite is his impression of Sinatra singing "America, The Beautiful") as well as the strung out cast of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (who recommend the audience save their money rather than go see the film, going so far to call the movie "disappointing"), and a fascinating exchange between Reed, Brooks, Cavett, and a psychiatrist who serves as an advisor to the then-recently invented MPAA ratings system. And that's just 1 episode! This is a great box set.


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